What is it?
The 2020 Nissan Versa Is Good Enough to Not Be the Cheapest
Mo' Money, Fewer Problems
The Nissan Versa has held the title of the "least expensive car in America" for over a decade. But in its all-new third generation, the Versa has relinquished its title and appears to be a better car for it. The 2020 Nissan Versa will start at $15,625, including destination, which is about $2,270 more than the outgoing model. But this price increase gets you a modern-looking, better-driving Versa, with more standard features than the outgoing model.
The new non-turbocharged 1.6-cylinder makes 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 13 hp and 5 lb-ft over the old model. It's paired with a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), as well. Those aren't huge bumps, but in a car like this every little bit helps, and the extra power comes with no fuel economy penalty.
The redesigned Versa sits 2.3 inches lower, is 1.8 inches wider and has a 1.6-inch-longer profile than the previous generation. Its styling bears a strong resemblance to its larger sibling, the Nissan Altima, which is a step up for the subcompact. And while the price has increased, you're getting more features than before. Formerly top-trim-exclusive features such as power windows, power locks and keyless entry with push-button start are now standard on the base "S" trim level.
Other standard equipment includes three USB ports, automatic headlights (with LED headlights available in the top trim), new safety features, and an available 7-inch driver information screen.
Why does it matter?
The Nissan Versa is the top-selling vehicle in the subcompact-sedan class. Nissan sees this car as the "gateway into its brand," and since first impressions are everything, it wants this Versa to make an impact.
And while many buyers have flocked to SUVs, subcompact sedans are still an appealing option for younger drivers, bargain hunters or those who need a commuter car for racking up the miles.
What does it compete with?
The 2020 Versa competes with the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent. If you're interested in features such as automatic emergency braking or push-button start, they are available on the Versa for significantly less money. The Nissan also offers features such as remote start, rear automatic emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert, which are not available on the Rio or Accent.
And now that the Versa has vacated the "least expensive" title, the Mitsubishi Mirage G4 sedan will be the current base-price champ.
How does it drive?
With a smoother-shifting CVT automatic, revised suspension, a more rigid body design, and an upgraded electric power steering system, the 2020 Versa exhibits a more composed and responsive feel on the road. And while the extra power is nice on paper, as with most vehicles in this class, you'll still need to plan any passing maneuvers or merges carefully.
Engines paired with CVT automatics are known to drone under hard acceleration, but this Versa's interior felt significantly quieter. If you have the climate control and the stereo going, you won't hear the engine much in normal driving situations. Additionally, the new CVT automatic does a better job of simulating gear shifts. Overall, it responds smoothly while alleviating that "endless gear" feeling.
The new suspension has improved the Versa's handling without giving up comfort. Its ride quality felt competitive for the class. While you can feel imperfections in the road, it at least dampens them effectively.
What's the interior like?
Nissan significantly refined the Versa's interior. The dashboard has a sleek, modern design that looks less busy than the previous Versa. The buttons and switchgear feel more premium, and even the steering wheel, with its new "D" shape, is a massive improvement over the outgoing design.
The driver and front passenger get Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seats, which are built from NASA-derived technology to enhance comfort and reduce back fatigue over long drives. They've been in pricier Nissan models before and have now made their way into the Versa. We found the new seats comfortable. However, they might not fit every body shape that well, so we're reserving final judgment until we get a Versa into the office for a comprehensive test.
The interior gets more impressive if you opt for the mid "SV" trim or higher. These trims give you access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a 7-inch driver information screen in the gauge cluster.
How practical is it?
The Versa boasts the largest trunk of any sedan in its class at 14.3 cubic feet. Inside, the Versa now has class-leading 44.5 inches of front legroom. But, it seems to come at the expense of its rear legroom, which was one of the things we praised on the 2019 model. Also, taller passengers might find the headroom cramped in the back seats.
What else should I know?
The 2020 Versa comes standard with four of the six "Safety Shield 360" features: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, rear automatic braking, and lane departure warning. The remaining pieces of the Safety Shield — blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert — are available on the SV trim levels or higher. These improved safety features are part of the reason why Nissan says its goal with the Versa is not to be the cheapest car in America but rather to provide the best value.
While the price of the Versa has increased, it seems to have been in the service of making a better car.